Andaman & Nicobar turtles face extinction
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are the third most significant biodiversity hotspot in India. With a coastline of 1962 kilometres and many beaches straddling small isolated islands, the region provides an ideal nesting habitat for primarily four species of marine turtles: the leatherback turtle, hawksbill turtle, green sea turtle and Olive Ridley turtle. All of these have been declared endangered by the iucn. Jim Spotila, head of Marine Turtle Specialist Group Leatherback Task Force, an iucn body, lists just three other colonies in the world with more than 1000 leatherbacks. This clearly indicates that the Great Nicobar island, in particular, and its adjoining island groups are critical for the long-term survival of this species. Interestingly these turtles travel thousands of miles across the globe, yet manage to find their way back to the same beach for nesting. Hatchlings born on a particular beach are believed to return to that very spot for nesting.
Human threat Today marine turtles are on the brink of extinction as they are victims of untrammelled human activity. At least 21 nesting beaches in the A ndamans are reported to have been destroyed by the booming construction industry between 1981 and 2000. During the 2000-2001 nesting season, a staggering 40 per cent of the nesting leatherbacks in Great Nicobar island had boat propeller cuts on their flippers, necks and carapaces. Hawksbill turtles in the Andaman group of islands are poached rampantly by settlers for meat and eggs. According to Harry Andrews, director of Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environmental Team (anet), a local conservation group, fisherfolk report around 3500 turtle deaths annually as the reptiles get trapped in shark and gill nets. Leatherbacks often consume plastics floating on the island waters, mistaking them for jelly fish (their favourite food). The result is that turtles choke on the plastic material. It has also been estimated that wild dogs consume over 70 per cent of eggs and hatchlings in the Andamans. In some of the North Andaman islands, this rate exceeds 90 per cent.
Save the habitat Considering the present circumstances, an immediate ban needs to be imposed on sand mining in all turtle nesting beaches in the region. Instead, the use of pulverised granite should be encouraged. Wild dogs, which pose a great risk to the survival of turtles , need to be controlled on all nesting beaches in the islands. The use of Turtle Excluder Device needs to be made mandatory in shark and gill nets. Also, permission for tagging turtles should be granted afresh. "It is necessary to tag turtles to gather information about the number of nestings by each turtle per season and remigration intervals. This helps us to arrive at population estimates from numbers of nests,' points out Kartik Shanker, a scientist at the Centre for Herpetology in the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, Chennai, and secretary, International Sea Turtle Society, a global non-governmental organisation.
Activist bodies like anet are having to put up resistance at every level. Two of their three field stations have already been shut down. "Once you have infrastructure, you won't get what's called maintenance money